The Tetons are the kind of dreamy, photogenic peaks you picture in your head when you think of mountains. If you’re a fan of breathtaking scenery and/or hiking, you’ll love all the things to do at Grand Teton National Park. The park is often overshadowed by its famous neighbor Yellowstone, but the peaceful mountains and serene lakes are the perfect antidote to the hustle and bustle of the busier park to the north. Keep reading to see the best of the best the Tetons have to offer.
All the must-do things to do at Grand Teton National Park
You could honestly spend a whole day posted up in a lawn chair on the shore of Jackson Lake just gazing at the Grand Tetons and call it a vacation well-spent. However, if you’re like me and like to keep busy exploring, you’re likely looking for some other things to do in Grand Teton National Park. You’ll find everything from relaxing boat rides to historic buildings seemingly built just for future photographers to overnight hikes deep into the wilderness.
Take a scenic drive
You will absolutely want to take a scenic drive through the Tetons to experience their beauty. If you’re short on time and skip all the other things to do in Grand Teton National Park, this is the one thing you’ll want to still do. It’s also a great way to start your visit even if you’re staying longer and hitting the trails because you get a fantastic overview of the scenery.
Teton Park Road
If you’re driving the park North to South (coming from Yellowstone), the first stretch of road will take you along Jackson Lake and treat you to views of Grand Teton itself. Bear right at the Jackson Lake Junction to take the Teton Park Road running closer to the mountains in the west. This will take you further along the shore of Jackson Lake and eventually on to smaller, but just as pretty Jenny Lake.
The road will rejoin US-191 at the Moose junction. From there, you can continue south toward Jackson Hole, or loop back north on US-191. You’ll still get mountain views from this highway, but they’re more distant and slightly less impressive.
If you’re driving the Teton Park Road, don’t miss the detour onto the side road at the Jenny Lake Junction. The road takes you to the Jenny Lake Lodge with two-way traffic, and then turns into one-way traffic at about its halfway point. The one-way section is its best part, so don’t skip it. You’ll end up back out on Teton Park Road at the end.
Signal Mountain Road
For an elevated view of the Grand Tetons, take a drive up Signal Mountain Road. You can access it from Teton Park Road near the Jackson Lake Junction. The 5-mile road is narrow and winding and takes you to the top of Signal Mountain. The Jackson Lake Overlook gives you a great perspective that you won’t be able to get in many other places.
Hiking is one of the top things to do in Grand Teton National Park
Grand Teton National Park boasts over 100 trails ranging from easy to strenuous. From low key walks through meadows or along lakeshores to steep climbs up into the backcountry, quick strolls that have you back at your car in an hour to overnight backpacking trips, you’ll find a trail to suit your tastes in Grand Teton.
Cascade Canyon is one of the most popular trails. Beginning with a boat shuttle across Jenny Lake, it takes you past Hidden Falls and Inspiration Point, deep into the Tetons. The scenery is spectacular and wildlife sightings are common.
For a shorter hike that leads to a beautiful alpine lake, try the Taggart Lake Loop. Phelps Lake is another scenic lake worth a visit. You can access the lakeshore or an overlook above it via the Death Canyon Trailhead.
Check out one of the numerous trails around the Jackson Lake Lodge or Coulter Bay for other easy hikes. These tend to hug the shoreline of Jackson Lake and not have as much of a vertical gain as many of the other trails in the park.
For a serious challenge, try the multi-day Teton Crest Trail that takes you deep into the backcountry and rewards you with spectacular views and a true getaway into nature. Permits are required for overnight stays in the backcountry.
Look for wildlife
Wildlife spotting is another one of the top things to do at Grand Teton National Park. The abundant water and shelter available in the park make Grand Teton an ideal habitat for a variety of wildlife. While sightings are never guaranteed, you have great odds of spotting one of the park’s animal inhabitants. Be sure to practice bear safety wherever you are in the park.
Grand Teton’s most famous animal resident is known as Grizzly 399, an old female grizzly who has become so well known that she has her own social media accounts. She prefers to roam in areas near human-settled parts of the park and has even been known to teach her cubs to look both ways before crossing the road just like a human mother would.
Oxbow Bend, located near the Jackson Lake Junction, is an ideal spot for seeing moose. Visit first thing in the morning or toward evening for the best chance of seeing one wading in the slow-moving waters here. Otters and beavers are also commonly seen. Nearby Willow Flats is also an excellent area to see moose and elk. Grizzly 399 is known to hunt in this area.
Cascade Canyon is another location where moose are frequently seen. Bears are also common in this area.
All along the Snake River, visible in many places from US-191 and the River Road, you’ll find excellent wildlife viewing as animals like elk, moose, and bison come to graze.
See historic spots
Grand Teton is home to some historic buildings originally built by homesteaders who took up residence in the area before it was established as a national park. The Menors Ferry Historic District is located near the Moose Junction and features a handful of wooden buildings from the days when a ferry or cable was necessary to cross the Snake River. You’ll find a general store, barn, wagons, boats, and the cabin where local officials first met to discuss establishing the national park in this area.
The Chapel of the Transfiguration is one of the most scenic spots in the park. It’s located near the Menors Ferry area and is operated by a local Episcopal congregation. It’s tiny from the outside, but packs a phenomenal view of the Cathedral Group peaks in the distance.
The Murie Ranch is also located near Moose Junction. It was home to two related couples who were instrumental in local conservation and helped to establish the area as a national monument originally. The site includes cabins and a studio.
Further east, Mormon Row is home to two historic barns that are a photographer’s dream when viewed with the Teton range in the background. It’s an incredible contrast between small, man-made structures and the jaw-dropping beauty of the mountains behind them.
Get out on the water
Even though the park is most famous for its namesake mountains, the Snake River and the many lakes and streams in the park are part of what makes it special. Getting out and enjoying these bodies of water is one of the best things to do at Grand Teton National Park. There are plenty of water recreation opportunities for visitors with or without their own boats.
Scenic boat rides
Taking a scenic boat ride on one of the park’s larger lakes is the perfect way to enjoy the picturesque views while relaxing. Jackson Lake and Jenny Lake both offer daily cruises with scenery, narration, and opportunities for wildlife spotting. Reservations for both are highly recommended.
From late spring to early fall, daily scenic cruises depart from the Colter Bay Village Marina and take you close to towering Mount Moran. The concessionaire also offers breakfast, lunch, and dinner cruises to Elk Island, which include your meal. Prices and schedules can be found here.
You can also take hour-long scenic cruises on smaller Jenny Lake daily from late spring to early fall. These depart from the East Boat Dock and give you great views of the Cathedral Group mountains. Arrive early (especially for afternoon departures) to leave enough time for parking as we had a very difficult time finding a space during our visit. Check prices and schedules here.
There is also a shuttle boat on Jenny Lake that ferries you across to the trailhead near Hidden Falls and Inspiration Point. You can ride this one way or round trip. The area can also be accessed via lakeshore trail if you’d rather hike the whole thing.
Rafting the Snake River
A few different concessionaires offer rafting trips down the calm stretch of the Snake River running through the park. You won’t be getting a jolt of adrenaline on churning white water, but instead you’ll be enjoying a peaceful float with spectacular views and loads of chances to see wildlife. Lunch or dinner trips can also be reserved. Check prices and schedules here.
Boating and fishing
For a less structured way to get out on the water, take a boat out on one of the lakes. You can bring your own boat (yearly permit and invasive species inspection required for both motorized and non-motorized boats) and launch it in Jackson Lake.
End ties can be rented on a nightly basis. Boat slips can also be rented, but they have to be rented for the entire season and they have a lengthy waiting list. (I took a peek at the lists out of curiosity and one of them has a name that was added 21 years ago so, uh, you’ll have to plan ahead for that one.)
Kayak, canoe, and motorboat rentals are also offered from the Colter Bay Marina. With a two-hour minimum per rental, they’re not cheap, but you’ll be treated to spectacular views along the way.
The national park offers numerous guided walks led by park rangers. Schedules vary widely so check the park website or pop into one of the visitor centers while you’re there to find out times, locations, and topics available during your visit.